logo2 cols
Self Publishing Guide

Get your FREE copy of our 44-page Introduction to Self-Publishing

Why New Zealand Writers Should Be Selling Books On Amazon

Talking to a client yesterday, it afterwards occurred to me that not everyone, particularly in New Zealand, has been buying from Amazon for 15 years, like I have. Knowing what and why is happening on an Amazon book page is important because:

  • Much of it is under you, the author’s, control.
  • Amazon is a master at turning those browsing a webpage into buyers — and for those of us selling books that’s important. In marketing this is called visitor conversion — and Amazon does it better than any other online bookshop.

So in this post we’ll dissect an Amazon.com listing of a self-published eBook.

Note the book in question — John Daulton’s Galactic Mage is not a customer of DIY Publishing. However I know the book has been out for some time, I know the author, and know that he successfully promotes and sells his books. He’s a good example of a moderately successful self-published author.

Note these screen shots are taken when I was logged into Amazon as a customer — you may see slightly different buttons on the right.

Click on the image to see a larger version

top-amazon-listing

 

So lets get right into it — from the top:

  • First yellow warning — I’ve already bought this book — Amazon stops you inadvertently buying a book for a second time — very useful that!
  • Amazon launched an amazon.com.au eBook store in late 2013. I’d rather stick with amazon.com because I want to see what my majority US audience sees (plus there’s  more books).

Now the next part  of the listing has 3 parts :

  1. the book cover
  2. the  book’s details
  3. buy now panel

1. The importance of book cover on Amazon

Some things to notice here — this book has a good cover. It accurately shows what the story is about (SF, space opera, male and female protagonists). And it’s legible even on a small screen. Remember other listings of the book (see “Also Boughts” below) cover are even smaller . Your cover has to look good even when very small.

Look Inside

Notice how right at the top of the cover Amazon is asking you to “look inside”. To do so click the image on the listing. What you will see next is probably the most important selling tool that Amazon gives to authors — it automatically opens up a window which shows either the first 10% of the book (for the eBook) or a number of interior pages (for a print-only book) . This allows a potential  reader to start reading immediately (just as you’d skim a book in a bookshop).

Takeaway for authors: make sure your first few pages are gripping — minimize the fluff at the front of the book (review excerpts, introductions by other people, get to the story quickly). Move all the other content to the back.

2. The book details panel

Book Title: This clearly shows that the book is the first book in the series. If it was a non-fiction it would show not just the title, but the sub-title as well. The title is important — if people search inside Amazon for a book using words from within the title — the book will show up. In this case, the book is part of a series and that’s included in the title, so again if the reader searches they will find the whole series.

Author’s Name:  In this case there is only one — but there can be a variety of names here including multiple authors, illustrators and editors. Note how the name is underlined — if you  click that link you’ll go to John Daulton’s author central page. That’s a whole other post — but suffice to say here — a) you  want one and, b) it’s free. For the moment read more about Author Central on Amazon.

Star rating:  You may not even have noticed these little stars consciously — but I can assure you that the psychology of selling is that if you see 4 or 5 stars you are far more likely to buy, particularly compared to seeing no stars at all.  As I write this  John has about 4 stars and 213 customer reviews.

Pricing Information: The book is discounted from the listed price of $3.99 to 0.99 — almost certainly because John has listed the book on other online retailers a the lower price. Doing this will see Amazon automatically price match — and the listing looks like the buyer is getting a bargain. (Ever bought something in a shop because it was 60% off?)

There is also a print version of the book — priced at $19.99 — so Amazon takes that prices looks at the 0.99 discounted price for the digital — and proclaims a 95% ($19) saving — impressive hey?

Whatever you think of price discounting — remember the pricing is mainly within your control, and can be changed by simply altering your listing. Pricing is a marketing decision, and fortunately one that is easy to change. Note: to get the 70% royalty from Amazon your eBook must be priced between US$2.99 and US$9.99.

Book formats: For almost all books you should be considering both a Kindle and Paperback edition. Note the Paperback will only show listed here if it’s produced by Createspace.com . The audio book is another option, but more expensive and complex to produce and probably left until you are in profit from the original book launch.

3. Buy Now Panel

As an author you have no control over this panel — I just want to point out why it’s so awesome — and why so many other online bookstores fail at this point. If I want to buy this book I click “buy with 1-click”  and chose where I want my book delivered to (my iPad, my Kindle, my partner’s Kindle, my phone, my Kindle software on my laptop). I don’t have to enter my name, my credit card, my full address or my father’s mother’s maiden name. I just have to click the button (Amazon has my credit card on record). It’s easy. It’s no fuss.

Or I could click and give it as a gift. That’s it I’ve bought it — one click. Done — no mucking about with signing in (I am already signed in) — the ultimate spontaneous purchase. Between thinking “I’ll buy that ” and doing so, is literally “one click”.

However if I’m not convinced I can still add the title  it to a wish list, or download that first 10% sample to my Kindle – and yes Amazon will send me emails and nag me to buy ..

Still think you can’t join the party because you don’t own a Kindle? Not true . The next link on the right takes you to the page to download the free reading software for any device or computer you own.

Click on the image to see a larger version 

also bought page on Amazon

Book Description

This is a few lines of text — you can get a little fancier than this book’s description — and you can go longer but after about 10 lines the reader will have to click a “show more” button to continue reading. The description matters but not as much as the cover, the first 10% of the book, the title and the overall review rating. (How do I know this? The further up the page the more important it is — the more people are likely to read and not skip).

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

This may have caught your eye, and that’s no accident, those pretty colour covers again! Not every book will show these — but books that are selling always show them. If the book is selling well to genuine buyers, the books on this line will be close in genre.

Note that the first couple of books are also the author’s. That’s why sometimes you hear that you shouldn’t even start marketing until you’ve written three related books.

Amazon is neutral — “also boughts” are not “fixed” to only show self published or traditionally published books — if your book shows up as an “also bought” under a traditionally published, popular book in the same genre you will definitely see a spike in sales.

“Also boughts” (and the related emails that Amazon will sometimes send customers recommending titles) is why once you have a certain level of sales on Amazon you will see the sales “just happen” without extra marketing on your part.

Click on the image to see a larger version 

book-details

Editorial Reviews

This is also controlled via Author Central — sub-headings include:

  • Reviews — usually a few sentences quoted from traditional media
  • About the Author
  • From the Inside Flap
  • From the Back Cover

Product Details

These are all controlled by the author:

  • File Size: If your file is large you will be paying the costs of download — this is only an issue if you have images in the book.
  • Print Length: If you don’t have a print edition, Amazon will estimate the page count (quite accurately unless it’s a comic book or a book with many images).
  • Publisher: Optional, if you don’t have a publishing company just leave it blank. No reader chooses books depending on who the publisher is.
  • Sold By:  That will always be Amazon Digital Services for self-published authors.
  • Language: Self explanatory.
  • ASIN: Amazon’s unique catalogue number for your book. The reason Kindle books don’t need (but may have) an ISBN. Fun fact if you know the ASIN — you know the page on Amazon.com for the book will be http://amazon.com/dp/ASIN/ on the UK site it will be http://amazon.co.uk/dp/ASIN etc.
  • Text-to-Speech: Some kindles will read me a book in a computer generated voice.  Not all Kindle models do this.
  • X-Ray: Not available to self-publishers as far as I know.
  • Lending: If you are enrolled for the 70% royalty program than you must allow purchasers to lend your book for up to 14 days to a friend.

I’ve left the best to last :

Amazon Best Sellers Rank

There is nowhere to hide. If a book’s ranking is #26,722, that means there are 26,721 books that sell more than it on Amazon at that time. The rankings are updated about once an hour. Given the sales ranking you can work out approximately how well a book is selling and even what royalty the writer is making (assuming they’re self published). If a ranking is higher than 700,000 the book is basically not selling. If the book is currently free — then that is a different ranking chart.

Categories

If the book also has an additional 1, 2 or 3 lines stating that its ranking in a sub-category (at the time of writing Science Fiction > First Contact ) that’s also a big hint that the book is selling. Again this is the stuff of several long posts — but suffice it to say — don’t ever exaggerate your books sales. Those who have read this blog post know whether you are selling once a week (higher than 200,000), once a day (about 80,000) or 5 times a day (20,000). You can give the book up to two categories from the KDP dashboard — but Amazon will re-categorize your book as it sells, automatically, based on sales data. Again, one of the powerful ways that it makes your books visible to readers looking for your type of books.

Click on the image to see a larger version 

reviews

Customer Reviews

We’ve talked about the summary of these right at the very top — but reviews do sell books. Which is not to say that you need all 5-star reviews. If you want to read some really nasty 1-star reviews look up The Luminarieson Amazon.

As a writer, if you don’t want criticism, don’t read your reviews. If you do get criticized, never ever reply, it makes you look like an amateur. If the review is actually an ad hominem attack, or gives away the end of your story (fiction), or  is promoting a competitors book — report it to Amazon — they will probably remove it.

The “pull quotes” to the star chart histogram are automatically generated by Amazon when you have enough reviews (and they do an astoundingly good job at it too). A 3-star review counts as a “bad” review and sits on the left column, quite often a 3-star review is not bad at all, merely a reviewer who went to school prior to every student being wonderful and exceptional for just showing up! Occasionally a clueless reviewer will give a 1-star review and love the book — they meant to give a 5-star.

Most helpful reviews stick at the top (readers can vote on reviews “Was this review helpful to you”), and most recent show on the right.

Click on the image to see a larger version 

notes

Highlights and Shared Notes

Now we are really far, far down the page — how many readers get this far is probably moot. But still there are a some interesting gems down here. As well as a picture of the author and a clip from their bio on Author Central and more opportunities to buy by checking out what others bought after browsing this book’s page — you may also see Shared Notes and Highlights and Popular Highlights — readers on Kindles can highlight and share passages — I suspect that it happens more for non-fiction books than fiction.

Amazon is the best sales tool you’ll ever have

A long post, and still I’ve only skimmed sections which are entire posts in their own rights. Amazon’s book listing page is no accident, nor is it static, they change details from time-to-time, but they’ve been selling books for 20 years online, they are the best in the business at doing it.

Amazon doesn’t discriminate — the only issues New Zealand authors have listing and selling their books on Amazon is that they have to deal with US$ cheques and the US tax department — neither of these issues are of Amazon’s making.

I know it’s fashionable to say Amazon is a terrible mega-corporation that kills bookshops and publishers. That maybe so, but for an author, Amazon also gives far better access to the average Kiwi writer than any local bookseller or publisher ever has.

Amazon provides a way to connect to a world-wide audience of book buyers for any author who wants to use it, in return for 70% royalties for eBooks.  Amazon doesn’t care if you are self-published or where you live — they will feature you book right next to traditional publishing houses whether you are based in Auckland or New York.

7 Comments

  1. jonquil graham on June 30, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    This is excellent. Very helpful. I was interested to know you don’t reply to a reviewer who gives you a low rating. It was hard to resist because the facts were wrong and one reviewer was saying it was a “self published book” when it wasn’t. So they were misleading readers. Amazon removed my remarks

    • admin on July 1, 2014 at 9:34 am

      Amazon does do some manual deletion of both reviews and responses. It appears inconsistent – I’ve had perfectly legit reviews removed and had my own perfectly legit reviews removed from time-to-time. It particularly happens if you get a bunch of good reviews early on, from people who haven’t bought the book from Amazon (but have bought it legitimately e.g from an earlier trad published version in your case!)

      There are no rules per se about replying- but I’ve rarely seen it end well for authors and I’ve so far managed to refrain myself. Which is not to say I haven’t sometimes had friends vote down an incorrect review …

  2. Victoria Virgo on June 30, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    What an excellent study of how to effectively publish your work on Amazon. I am from the UK and I have several kindle books up at the moment. I am hoping to work on getting a hard copy produced at some point.

    This is important info for writers all over the globe. Amazon and self publishing is a fantasti resource that should be used by all.

    • admin on July 1, 2014 at 9:36 am

      Hi Victoria and thanks for commenting! I think this is the thing that a lot of New Zealand writers are coming to terms with – for decades we were told getting our books to the world was ‘very difficult” – now it’s not difficult at all – it’s as simple as promoting your book on Amazon 🙂

      I do highly recommend that you get a print edition out as well- I did mine purely to give credibility to my eBooks – but every month I sell a few print books – it always make me smile!

  3. Robert Black on August 12, 2015 at 5:06 am

    My problem is not getting my writing published overseas it is getting my writing published at home, I suppose mostly because not that many Kiwis read via Kindle.

    It is quite frustrating as most of my writing is set in New Zealand.

    • Lis on August 14, 2015 at 9:02 am

      Hi Robert and thanks for commenting. NZ publishing is pretty much a closed shop, as it sounds like you’ve already discovered. But where you are actually published doesn’t really matter – what you really are asking how do I get my book distributed in New Zealand – how do I connect to NZ readers. And remember many NZ readers are expats anyways.

      You can’t know that “not many Kiwis read via Kindle” – the stats aren’t available – as there is no separate amazon.nz site – most of us buy from the amazon.com website so no one has any idea how many people living in NZ buy Kindle books – well Amazon does – but they aren’t saying!

      Are you aware that Wheelers will accept epub ebooks (NOT pdf) for distribution if the book is of interest to their audience (NZ libraries and schools predominantly) . Some local book shops, e.g. Unity and Paperplus will take paper books too – but the terms means you won’t be making much per a sale.

      Are you aware of the Aukcland Indie Book Festival – now in it’s second year – running early October http://www.nzbookfestival.co.nz/

      Hope these suggestions help

  4. Alastair Carthew on February 27, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    This is a very useful set of advice. I am self publishing my first novel, Proud, around June this year. Any assistance like this is very valuable. The book is a humorous, satirical look at a few Kiwi sacred cows packed around serious current issues such as the impact of climate change, the benefits or otherwise of nuclear power (not weapons) and the flaws in the MMP electoral system. Many other interesting characters and twists and turns in the plot ensue.

Leave a Comment